It’s that time of the year again. This is the time when we begin to celebrate another year gone and the dawning of the new year. How tiresome it is for HR departments having to once more send out those ‘Dos and Don’ts’ statements (sorry ‘don’ts’ statements) about Christmas party behavior.

However, I would like to propose that the break-up party is actually an opportunity for managers to demonstrate their commitment to workplace culture as leaders. This is about state of mind and how we as managers approach the function. Do we approach it simply as a participant or do we see it as an opportunity to increase staff engagement? An opportunity to recognise, reflect and get to know? This is without doubt an opportunity to understand more about patterns of team and staff interaction, morale and satisfaction. On the other hand this opens the door for you to ‘muck up’ badly; to embarrass yourself and allow the lines of communication and authority to be blurred; perhaps inflicting long term pain on you and the organisation.

Leadership is predominantly a state of mind, a way of thinking. I believe in most cases in business we intellectually and emotionally sign-up to leadership knowing that every now and again we risk breaking the contract. It seems that the Christmas party often provides managers with a ‘high risk’ environment for breaking that contract. We can find ourselves closing up shutters for the year forgetting that the organisation’s Christmas party is actually the springboard into the next year and behaving loosely or without consideration for the state of our future relationships.

This year I want you to take a leadership mentality into your Christmas party.

Why? Because it provides you with another great opportunity to demonstrate that you are an effective, open, responsible and caring manager – key attributes for building and reinforcing staff engagement.

Seven (7) hints for Organisations & Managers who want to use the Christmas party as a demonstration of quality leadership:

1. Understand the guidelines, have a clear mind.

Leaders understand the expectations on them –

Be clear about what the organisation expects in relation to behaviour at any Christmas event. I like relaxed, jovial and respectful rather than just ‘fun’. Also understand the organisation’s position on matters such as drunkenness, cab fares, start & finish times,attendance at events following the Christmas party and other practical information (personally I advise managers not to attend after party events). This all helps for a clear mind so that managers can make any difficult decisions before hand that might be required on the night.

2. Set Expectations for staff.

Leaders set or communicate expectations and deliver on them –

It’s great to have a relaxed two way team discussion before the event about ‘what’s OK and what’s not OK’. You may well be surprised if you ask your staff about their own expectations regarding behaviour how naturally aligned it might be to those of the organisation.

For example, the other day I asked my younger staff about whether they would prefer a ‘Formal Code’ or ‘Casual Code’ of dress at iHR in Australia. I expected strong support for implementing a more casual approach to dress. To my surprise they were unanimously supportive of the formal dress code. Furthermore, set expectations in relation to responsible drinking, (if in fact you allow it), cab charges and starting & finishing times. Have a ‘Party Rules’ memo circulated prior to the event.

3. Turn-up.

Leaders demonstrate interest and commitment to their employees –

Many managers tell me they don’t turn up to the annual break-up party because ‘they don’t enjoy being in a room full of drunks’ or ‘it’s too dangerous given modern day legal risks’. In my view no one should be that drunk (refer point 6) at a Christmas party and leaders should understand risk but not be paralysed by it. Not turning up out of fear lacks courage and is an abdication of your responsibility as a leader to build a more engaging workplace. The harsh fact of the matter is that you are more likely to be injured by a drunk driver on the way home than be sued for negligence.

4. Role model behaviours.

Leaders role model the behaviours required by the organisation that they commit too –

I doubt I have to remind any of you that read my blog regularly that the capacity and willingness to role model is a key leader attribute. At the Christmas party, the fact that you drink too much, take part in humiliating or belittling behaviours or discussions puts you and the organisation at risk.

On the other hand if you drink moderately (if indeed you want to drink alcohol), be happy, congenial and respectful you are likely to help set a positive responsible tone. Self control is a great leadership attribute and a lot easier said than done. Be honest with yourself about your weaknesses (especially in social situations) and the triggers that might lead you to behaving in a way that might be regarded as unacceptable by your organisation. For example, if you have a tendency to enjoy drinking with a particular group of males or females with whom you’ve had a long association with ensure that you make a concerted effort to move around the room rather than restricting yourself to this particular group.

5. Be Aware.

Leaders have awareness of what is happening around them –

One reason I don’t want you drinking too much at the end of year party is that managers need to be aware and coherent. You are ultimately responsible for the safety and welfare of the attendees. Prepare to be an individual respondent in a court case should you fail to observe and act on behaviours that are potentially litigious. For example when ‘tipsy’ Megan and Phil are making publically disparaging comments about Alan because he works ‘too slow’ or Sandra and Kent’s dancing is becoming very ‘dirty’, recognise that this may potentially lead to a harassment claim.

6. Be Prepared to act on bad behaviours and say goodnight.

Leaders demonstrate courage and are prepared to change the course of events when required –

You should be prepared to respectfully take people aside when you feel their behaviour is a risk to themselves or others. Don’t do it in front of the crowd, instead take the person aside. Having difficult discussions in front of a team could cause a confrontation that ruins the night or give a ‘smartie’ the opportunity they want to attempt to embarrass you in front of others.

If people are drunk or behave badly you need to be prepared to say goodnight. Generally a friendly handshake, consoling words about having to leave early and a cab-charge will do the job. If, however, an attendee is obviously at risk to themselves or the community you may need to organise a more ‘door to door’ arrangement in relation to getting them home (for example, two managers driving that individual home). If an injury occurs to the individual on the way home and it is deemed that the organisation has contributed to their condition and failed to take reasonable action to ensure the employees safe return home, then the organisation is potentially liable.

7. Implement the boundaries of the function.

Leaders do what they say and manage their environment to attain the outcomes they want –

Finally, implement the start times, finish times and ensure those attending the party know the boundaries of the party area. You should have agreed these up front. If it’s at a venue where there are a multitude of rooms and parties remember to remind those that constantly leave the designated party area that they are contravening your ‘party rules’ and if they keep leaving your area without good reason they may not be allowed to return.

Remember the Christmas party is work for managers. It is not a time for you to let the proverbial hair down. It’s an opportunity to build and reinforce the culture of engagement. You need to think about how you will approach the event and the question ‘Am I willing to commit to being a leader at the Christmas party?’


Founding director and CEO of iHR Australia and iHR Asia, Stephen Bell is an entrepreneur, business leader and renowned facilitator. Under his leadership, iHR Australia has established a varied client base ranging from government to more than 2000 multi nationals, large corporates, Start Ups/Greenfields and Not-for-Profit organisations across Australia and Asia.You can access his blog at – for more information about iHR Australia, please visit
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